Career Development Month Series: How to Create Career Awareness and Encourage Students to Explore Their Options

Career Development Month Series: How to Create Career Awareness and Encourage Students to Explore Their Options

November is National Career Development Month! This is the second of four articles in our Career Development Month blog series.

Welcome back to our blog series in support of National Career Development Month. Last week, we discussed igniting college and career readiness through self-discovery. If you missed that one, check it out: Career Development Month: Ignite College and Career Readiness By Encouraging Self-Discovery.
This week, we’re going to explore the importance of creating career awareness and encouraging career exploration.
If students spend time in self-discovery—developing self-awareness around their interests and skills, the school subjects they enjoy, and the skills they’d like to continue using in their future—you’re in a good position to introduce them to career awareness and exploration.

What Is Career Awareness and Exploration?

Career awareness is the ongoing learning process that involves researching career pathways. Engaging students in this process introduces them to all the possibilities of modern, in-demand work opportunities and emerging industries!
According to, career exploration for students involves:

  • Taking assessments to learn about their interests, personality, and aptitudes
  • Discovering and learning more about occupations that they’re drawn to
  • Researching careers, jobs, post-secondary school majors, and graduate programs
  • Identifying their values, so they know what is important to them about the work they want
  • Determining the skills and education they’ll need to begin their career
  • Trying out possible careers through volunteering, internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, and other opportunities in the community
  • Building self-confidence by making a plan, figuring out where to start, and taking action

The Importance of Career Awareness and Exploration/ Expand Students’ Horizons Through Career Exploration

According to a report from the OECD international economics think tank, children are already facing limits on their future career aspirations by age seven. The report warns of problems with social mobility due to ingrained stereotyping about social background, gender, and race. When young students think of their own future, their imaginations don’t necessarily serve them as well as we could hope. Instead, they’re often referencing what they know of the ‘grown up world’ from what’s around them at home, in their communities, or what they see in the media. OECD’s director of education and skills, Andreas Schleicher argues “You can’t be what you can’t see. We’re not saying seven-year-olds have to choose their careers now but we must fight to keep their horizons open.” For many students, career awareness is not just showing them jobs that are related to ones they’ve thought about. It’s about expanding their realm of possibility for their entire future. We all know career awareness isn’t a new concept. You can probably recall countless movie and TV scenes that showcase parent career days. While this is still a great practice, students may only be learning about careers within their specific community. This is why career fairs, focused career weeks, in-school mentorship, as well as accessible tools like Xello are great for allowing students to broaden their scope of knowledge of the various career pathways out there.

To help create that awareness, the team at Xello participated in a Xello Career Day Tour, telling the story of how they found their successful future in Tech. Watch it and share it with your students to ignite that curiosity in STEM fields.

How Xello Supports Career Awareness and Exploration from K-12

If you’re new to Xello, welcome! As an educator or counselor interested in learning what we do here, I recommend you watch the short video on our homepage. If you’re ready to introduce students to the exciting journey of becoming future-ready with Xello, we created this video for your students: Explore Your Future with Xello. If you’re an educator or counselor, we encourage you to show this video to your class to kick-off Career Development Month or before introducing students to Xello as a tool for exploring their interest and possible career pathways.

career development month
For us at Xello, exploring career options is a vital feature in our program. Students explore hundreds of career and college options that align with their assessment results. Engaging content written at a grade 6 level, rich photography, and real-world interviews provide an authentic glimpse into their future and the critical knowledge to make informed decisions and plans. Students document their journey as they build self-knowledge, explore post-secondary options, create plans, and continually reassess as they take in new knowledge, skills, and experiences.
Ready for a tour of Exploring Options in Xello? To orient yourself on how your students will explore options in Xello, take yourself through this quick module in Xello Support. In this module you’ll learn how students do a deep exploration of careers, how they discover majors that interest them, and the colleges that might help them reach their goals as they build an achievable plan.
Every educator account in Xello includes a student demo account that lets you explore the student side of the program. View as a Student to familiarize yourself with the student side of the program. You can have the same experience as your students, making it easy to introduce and show Xello in the classroom. And, once you’re ready to do more specific career awareness and career research you can have your students watch our NEW  “Start Your Career Adventure” video, which will guide them through the Explore Careers section in Xello.

Take Action with These Classroom Activities

Whether in a career-dedicated course or just this month during National Career Awareness Month, there are activities to help you get your students thinking about the career pathways.
Here are some activities you can run in your classroom during Career Development Month to promote career awareness and exploration.

Career Exploration Activities for Elementary Students

You would think that elementary school is too young to start students thinking about future careers, but it’s not!
Maybe the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” is outdated but elementary years are a great time to start asking kids about their interests. Bringing their awareness to possible career paths is a great way to start the wheels turning at this age, which is why Xello has future-readiness programs specifically for Elementary school years!
Activity Ideas:

  • Draw a map of businesses in your town and have students brainstorm jobs in each business
  • Bag of Careers: fill a bag with tools or clothing worn or used “on the job” and have students guess the career area.
  • Bring parents and community members to share what it’s like to do their jobs. Take special care to ensure diversity and an equitable gender spread so every student can see themselves in at least one career.
  • Ask students to reflect on what they enjoy and what they’re good at and then connect that to a career. Many educators assign a ‘poster project’ in which students create colorful posters to depict the career.
  • Have students take note of the careers while on field trips to places like the museum, zoo, art gallery, or theater presentation. Ask hosts to share a little about their job as part of their presentations.

Take Action with Career Exploration Activities for Middle School Students

Middle school is a great time for developing into career awareness and exploration. Middle school students are at an age when they are receptive to “cool” jobs and understand the connection between careers, salaries, and the kind of lifestyle they want. This is also a time when they will need to choose their high school courses, some of which are specialized pathways to a particular area of post-secondary study.
As part of Career Development Month or even as a homework task in a careers course, students can interview a family member or someone from their community to learn about their job. Students should ask detailed questions such as:

  • What a typical day is like
  • Salary range
  • Education requirements
  • How/why they chose that career

Learning About Alternatives to College
As Kate McKenzie points out in The Value of Considering All Career Pathways When Future Planning there is a socio historical context around why pursuing a 4-year college degree is the most valued/celebrated post-secondary educational pathway.

However, the data shows that this route isn’t for everyone:

In some families, the only option that is ever discussed is attending a four-year college. In other families, college is not an option financially. Either way, all students need to know about their options in pursuing the education that will get them the skills they’ll need to be successful in their career.

Suggested Career Exploration Lesson: Discover Learning Pathways
The recommended grade level of this activity is grade 7. The aim of the activity is for students to answer the question: Which learning pathway may lead me to my future success?
By the end of the activity, students will:

  • Understand their secondary school requirements
  • Investigate their postsecondary pathway options (university, college, apprenticeship, straight to work, military, and community living)
  • Explore the postsecondary pathways to various careers
  • Evaluate the pathways they could take to a career that interests them

Prompting Discussion Questions for Your Students

  • What are some ways that people can learn the career and life skills they need after high school?
  • What do you think is the most difficult part about deciding what kind of training to get after high school?
  • Can you choose more than one learning pathway?
  • Why might you want to take one learning pathway right after high school and one later in life?
  • What are some reasons people go to college or university?
  • What are some reasons people don’t go to college or university?
  • Does learning stop right after you’re done with school or training?
  • Why might someone want to keep learning as an adult who is working in a job?

Activity – Secondary School Pathways (15 Minutes)
Provide your students with a list of High School options or their secondary school diploma options and have students answer the following questions:

  • What are my options after middle school?
  • Will a specialized high school diploma better support me in my future pursuits? Explain why or why not.

Activity – Xello Lesson: Discover Learning Pathways (35 Minutes)
In this activity, students will investigate postsecondary pathway options and explore the postsecondary pathways to various careers by leveraging Xello’s ready-made Lesson “Discover Learning Pathways”. Before starting this activity, students will need to make sure they have saved three careers in Xello. It’s also recommended that students complete the Matchmaker assessment.

Activity – Preferred Pathway (25 Minutes)
In this activity, students will identify what they like and dislike about the learning pathways to three saved careers and evaluate their likelihood of pursuing the required training.
Students should complete the following for three saved careers in Xello:

  • Review the Sample Career Path section of the career profile. What requirements or responsibilities do you like or dislike?
  • At the top of the profile, choose an emoji to indicate how you feel about this career.
  • Within Likes and Dislikes add at least one like and one dislike in regards to the career path requirements and responsibilities.
  • Under the section titled Education, within Important Factors, on a scale of 1-5, evaluate the likelihood you’d want to complete the required education or training, 5 being very likely.

Take Action with Career Exploration Activities for High School Students

By the time they’re in high school, students should have a good idea of their interests and hopefully have investigated career paths related to their interests and personal strengths.
If there are students entering high school who haven’t spent any time on career awareness and exploration, not to worry — between 9th and 12th grade there are many opportunities to close the gap. Ideally, we don’t want seniors entering their final year of high school with absolutely no future plan.

Prompting Discussion Questions for Your Students

  • What is a career path?
  • Do you picture a “path” as more of a ladder with one way to the top, or as a trellis with lots of ways to progress?
  • What are some reasons a person might change careers?
  • What career field(s) do your interests relate or connect to?
  • What kinds of problems do your interests get you to solve?

Activity – Re-evaluate My Interests (15 Minutes)
Knowing their unique combination of interests can help students determine careers that will most likely suit them. Even if they don’t think the interest is worth pursuing beyond high school, investigating related opportunities may uncover opportunities they hadn’t considered before.
In this activity, students will update their Interests, investigate careers they relate to, and identify problems they’d get to solve in the careers related to their interests.
Before starting this lesson students must add at least 5 interests in About Me and save at least 3 careers.
Student Instructions:

  1. Access your Interests card on your About Me profile in Xello. Add to and update your list to reflect your relevant interests. Consider both current and upcoming experiences. You may also want to explore the Interests Categories for suggestions. Make sure you have added at least 5 interests.
  2. For each of your top 3 interests, find and save one career it relates to. Hint: enter your interests in the search field or use the Career Clusters filter to help you explore options related to your interests. If you find a post-secondary program that connects to your interest, look at the list of Related Careers and investigate those you’d like to know more about. You may also want to save the program for future reference.
  3. For each career you save (total 3), review the career profile and then select an emoji to identify how you feel about the career.
  4. Within the Likes and Dislikes card for each career, identify one problem you’d get to solve that’s part of this interest-related career. For example, if you had an interest in writing and saved the career “Advertising Copywriter,” a problem you might like solving in this career is finding the best way to deliver a client’s message.

Ready to Help Your Students Explore Their Options?

Help your students explore all their future options in Xello by showing them our “Start Your Career Adventure” video. Get yourself up to speed with this section of Xello by completing this module, where you’ll learn how students can explore careers, discover school majors, and post-secondary options to help them reach their goals as they build an achievable plan.

Next up in our Career Development Month blog series: How to Build Future Readiness Skills and Create Future Plans!